Named a Best Book of 2011: Englewood Review of Books and Hearts & Minds Books
“I read it in three sittings. Then I read it again. It’s a beautiful book, easily my favorite book on writing since Bird by Bird.”
—author Kimberlee Conway Ireton
Table of Contents
- The Dance Darkens
- Quality/Craig: Self-publishing fails the teen guy test
- Quality/Wikert: Near misses of another kind
- Reading/Rechtsteiner, O’Leary: Larger contexts
- Publishing/Weinman/Ogle: No fiction here
- Pacing the crisis/Harkaway: Time is short
- Confabs: paidContent 2012, straight ahead
- Confabs: Publishers Launch Hollywood & BEA
- Confabs: F+W revs it again
- Craft/Anderson: Getting a handle on Twitter
- Craft/Lebak: When agents say revise & resubmit
- Craft/Mandel, Gardner: Noir and noise
- Crowdfunding: ‘I sleep at my fans’ houses.’
- Magazines: ‘Our own little content silos’
- Last gas: Your ‘digital doppelganger’
The class-action suit in question is the one brought by a number of US states, filed on the same day (April 11) as the Department of Justice’s own action against the companies. The number of states involved in the class has since ballooned from 16 to 31.
Jacqui Cheng, writing from the Ars Technica vantage point in Judge: Ample evidence that Apple “knowingly joined” e-book conspiracy, looks first, of course, for the tech-defendant’s position after Tuesday’s U.S. District Court opinion.
Cheng’s second-deck headline:
Apple hasn’t been found guilty yet, but the judge’s comments don’t bode well.
Alison Frankel at Reuters Legal is even clearer in her headline: Ruling in ebooks class action is blow to defense in DoJ antitrust suit. Frankel writes:
The publishers were hoping that the class action didn’t meet the high pleading standard for antitrust complaints under the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, but (US District Court Judge Denise) Cote found there were plenty of the specific, well-supported allegations of collusion that Twombly demands.
Jim Milliot at Publishers Weekly headlined his story with as little emotion as possible: Court Rejects Motions to Dismiss Class Action Against Apple, Publishers. He maintained an admirable level of restraint throughout his write:
In her decision to let the civil suit move into the discovery phase, Judge Cote wrote that the suit “plausibly alleges that Apple and the Publisher Defendants took part in a conspiracy in restraint of trade, that an object of this conspiracy was to raise prices for eBooks, and that this restraint was unreasonable per se.”
Judge Cote had, as Milliot wrote, “rejected all of Apple and the publishers’ arguments to dismiss.”
Cote’s opinion is at times remarkable for the emphatic language in which she decries the alleged conspiracy….(Her) opinion is at times remarkable for the emphatic language in which she decries the alleged conspiracy.
Three of the publishers (Hachette, Harper Collins and Simon & Schuster) have already settled an antitrust lawsuit with the Department of Justice and agreed to change their pricing practices. The three publishers are also in negotiations with state governments under which they are likely to pay tens of millions in consumer restitution. In plain English, this means that people who bought an e-book in the last few years may receive a small settlement payment.
Robert’s paidContent colleague Laura Hazard Owen looked over the states’ amended complaint paperwork and found that portions that had been redacted in April (for unknown reasons) now has been left visible. Her write is headlined As 17 more states join class action against book publishers and Apple, new details revealed.
“The Club”: In September 2009 as the publishers considered “windowing,” or staggering the print and digital releases of a book, they “referenced themselves in one email as ‘the Club!’” This was in reference to windowing discussions and not to agency pricing discussions with Apple.
Much of the “stupid DoJ!” crowd noise that had followed the original filing in April seemed missing this week. An email list or two had a few spirited exchanges, but without the feisty, devil-may-care, you-call-that-collusion? wit we’d seen for a month. Some called the newly revealed bits of the complaint in Owen’s story “damning.” Others took issue with the term.
More fuss, less debate, this time. #haha at best. No #hahaha’s to be heard. It got more serious this week.
And Michael Cader at Publishers Lunch wrapped some pretty painful sobriety in the grace of clarity. In Judge Cote Rejects Motions to Dismiss Agency Class Action Suit; Shows Sympathy for the Plaintiffs, his reasoned, helpful assessment:
The initial read of Tuesday’s ruling can only give encouragement to the plaintiffs and pause to the defendants (and their defenders) at this stage, as Judge Cote confidently swats away all of the arguments made by the defendants in their dismissal motions.
Cader went even further, in order to assist book-biz observers parse legal implications:
Some people in the book industry wondered how a case could be built around mostly circumstantial evidence and inferences, but Judge Cote writes that since “unlawful conspiracies tend to form in secret, such proof will rarely consist of explicit agreements.”
Indeed, Cader explained, Cote has gone to some length on a lay person’s assumption that circumstantial evidence might be inadequate.
She (Judge Cote) cites case law that indicates “the antitrust plaintiff should present direct or circumstantial evidence that reasonably tends to prove that the [defendant] and others had a conscious commitment to a common scheme designed to achieve an unlawful objective.”
The dance being celebrated in Montevideo in our lead Ether image above is a tango, “La cumparsita.” You’d know it if you heard it. The 95th anniversary of this work by Gerardo Matos Rodriguez — originally a carnival march — arrived on April 19. This photo was taken at an event held on the site of the song’s original performance, at a cafe, La Giralda.
The tango’s opening line, by Pascual Contursi, might evoke the spectacle of an unhealthy industry’s folks still trying to find their way forward.
As the coming one-day conference paidContent 2012 puts the challenge:
Today’s digital content space is about looking for innovation without displacing what works.
As Contursi’s lyric goes:
The masked parade
of endless miseries
around that sick being…
After all, I thought, we’re talking about a 15 year old boy. It couldn’t bother him too much.
This is author Elizabeth S. Craig in a poised report on an acid test: Would her son, who loves dystopian fiction, have a problem with quality issues in a self-published ebook?
He came back downstairs later that evening. “I finished the book,” he said. Then he looked at me funny. “You know, the story was good and I liked the characters…but there were so many mistakes. It was totally distracting. I’ve never seen typos like that in a book.”
The post is headlined The Importance of Editing. And while Craig doesn’t belabor the point (as you know I’m going to), this perfectly positions one of the quietest and yet biggest dangers we face.
Think how much competition the entertainment complex is shoving at this young reader. Never in history has a traditional cultural pursuit like reading faced hot-and-cold-streaming everything, 24/7 glowing seduction by eye-popping effects and bright-shiny consoles, the sexiest sirens of creativity, populist appeal, connectivity, portability, affordability.
Because he’d never read a self-published book before.
That’s why, Craig reminds us, her son was so shocked at the unacceptable quality of the self-published book he’d just read.
Now, this particular guy is lucky. I have an idea his mom will keep him reading right past the bad experience of a self-published error-fest.
But what about other mothers’ sons and daughters?
How many times will kids get burned before they kiss reading goodbye and don’t look back? Are we expecting them to make all kinds of excuses for this sort of trashy production — as you hear some self-publishing authors do — and keep coming back for more? Why, when the culture of reading must square off against internationally played video games and electrifying films and DVR-ed television and all-music-on-demand do we expect them to soldier on, trying to read inferior substitutes for literature?
As Elizabeth Craig puts it, with more patience than I have on this issue:
We put so much time into writing these stories….we owe it to ourselves (and our readers) to ensure our books are readable.
Why doesn’t this book have a ton of links built in that point to related video clips and interviews? They’re all over YouTube and many other sites but they’re not curated in any manner.
Having read “Twin Peaks” co-creator Mark Frost’s Game Six: Cincinnati, Boston, and the 1975 World Series: The Triumph of America, Joe Wikert zeroes in on Another Missed Opportunity for Rich Content.
Publishing exec with O’Reilly Media that he is, Wikert knows exactly the point to get across, too:
I would have gladly paid more for a richer edition of this book with all those links curated by the author included.
As typically emblematic as it is of the peculiar fail-and-fail-again stage we’re navigating in the digital transition, it’s still hard not to shake your head along with Wikert when the simple approach of linking out is overlooked in such an obvious case as Game Six.
Publishers often complain about the prohibitive cost of creating apps out of books. Rather than going that far and spending a fortune, why not start with the inexpensive option of simply enhancing the ebook by curating everything related to it that already exists on the web?
Today, the battle is reading versus not-reading (because) a plethora of free and low-cost alternatives including TV, games, movies, videos, Twitter, Facebook are always at the ready.
That’s Chris Rechsteiner of BlueLoop Concepts writing Booksellers v. Libraries? Publishers v. Amazon? These are the wrong battles to fight at Digital Book World’s Expert Blogs.
He’s picking up on a frustration I understand well: intra-book-community battles seem ridiculous when reading, itself, is being eclipsed by the digital entertainment combine.
Publishers (both old and new) must step up and provide the platforms (and rights management frameworks) for innovation needed by booksellers (all types of booksellers) and authors to push reading forward. If they don’t, publishers will fall by the wayside as true innovation will be limited to a few (one?) large players investing on their own behalf (see Amazon, Barnes & Noble + Microsoft) while authors take their storytelling to completely new platforms that are altogether outside of the bookselling and library frameworks.
Rechtsteiner seems transfixed by some article he wrote four months ago, at which time he somehow thought publishing’s biggest problems were internal to the industry! the industry! And that being the case, it appears that he thinks the bright-shiny entertainment-deathstar enemies of reading have all sprung forth in the last four months.
Rechtsteiner claims that four months ago, “it mattered if libraries were or weren’t a direct threat to booksellers. Today, this question is irrelevant.” Why is it irrelevant? Because Rechtsteiner just realized that “people not reading” is a bigger threat.
Precisely, and expressed with the sort of collegial restraint that enriches O’Leary’s work. After all, Rechtsteiner’s central message is hardly wrong:
Everyone in the ecosystem needs to step up to the plate and prepare to take back reading or an industry will be lost for everyone.
O’Leary, however, spots further inadequacies in Rechtsteiner’s position, based on his own widely read white paper, The opportunity in abundance. O’Leary writes:
Rechtsteiner mixes data (library patrons are more likely to buy eBooks) with hyperbole (they represent the biggest short-term threat to eBook sales through Amazon and others). His data (drawn from Bowker and Pew) is powerful, but misapplied: if the availability of free books was such a threat, why have publishers and libraries co-existed for so long?
Overall, while recognizing what I believe was Rechtsteiner’s good intent, I have to agree with O’Leary that this kind of material is “not helping.”
And you know who else’s voice your blog sommelier can pair with this for you? Read on, Ethernaut.
When digital evangelists prognosticate about the future of publishing, as they love to do, and about what “needs” to go away, serious nonfiction is now one of the first things I think about.
Sarah Weinman, in Serious Nonfiction in the Digital Age, goes over the basic model of nonfiction production — the kind of project that takes years of research and writing, funded by grants and advances.
In the course of her thoughtful, challenging write, Weinman mentions historian and author Maureen Ogle, and her write on the topic, If Publishing is Dead, What Happens to Non-Fiction?
The self-publishing king- and queenpins are relentless in their mockery of those of us who cling to agents and publishing houses. According to them, we traditionalists are losers of the first order. We’re world-class fools for letting agents take our money, and dumbasses for letting editors and publishing companies call the shots on our behalf.
Echoing Weinman’s point, Ogle is aware of the parlous state her own career goes into in a scenario of collapsing publishers. And while we’ve heard more than enough invective from furious self-publishing hotheads who love to slam legacy publishing, this is one of the first times I’ve heard a strongly felt statement about the self-publishing camp from an author whose specializations have key needs for traditional support.
Ogle goes on:
The self-pubbers canNOT wait for the day when the entire traditional publishing complex falls into a huge hole in the ground…they don’t understand that for people like me, the “traditional” publishing industry is my only lifeline, my only means of support.
She’s right. The majority of irrationally exuberant self-publishers we hear from are in fiction.
So I ask them: What happens when the agents, editors, and publishing houses go away? Who will write non-fiction then?
There’s this tendency to talk about (the digital world) as if it’s an alien, separate space. And it’s not true. It’s just an overlay. The danger is that we end up thinking of the Internet as other, as a threat, or in terms of lawlessness, when it’s just another layer of the world we inhabit.
Author Nick Harkaway is at The Guardian with William Slidelsky in a too-short interview, Nick Harkaway: ‘The book industry has got to get online publishing right.’
Slidelsky asks Harkaway if the publishing industry has been slow to respond to the digital forces around it. Harkaway:
They’ve been a bit leaden. It’s not that they haven’t taken on board the shift that’s occurring, but some of the consequences haven’t sunk in. There’s a willingness to think: we’ll let everyone else figure out how the market should work, and then we’ll just supply books in the same way that we did to bookshops to electronic sellers like Amazon, Apple and Google.
The occasion is the arrival of Harkaway’s new book, The Blind Giant: Being Human in a Digital World. You sense his gigantic if humane frustration, and not just with the publishing establishment that can’t seem to understand:
Amazon is an infrastructure company; Apple sells hardware; Google is really an advertising company.
What’s more (and I’d say perhaps just as damaging), Harkaway clarifies, is a reticence to handle tech in literature.
The mainstream of literary culture in the UK is very averse to writing about technology. There are sci-fi writers who are playing with interesting ideas but I haven’t yet seen much that represents social media in a way that’s both realistic and compelling.
As of this gassing of the Ether, just 46 tickets are left for Wednesday’s paidContent 2012 daylong program, “At the Crossroads.”
- Future of Publishing
- Bundled Media
- Revenue Puzzle
- Content Discoverability
- Content Producers
- High Point of Creativity & Business
- Benefits of Paywall
With presenters ranging from Pottermore’s Charlie Redmayne and paidContent’s Laura Hazard Owen to NBC News’ Vivian Schiller and GigaOm’s Mathew Ingam, the day is a compact approach to the realities as we see them now. I like this line from the day’s setup:
If your responsibility is to make money from content, what should you do next? If the answer was easy, we’d all be on vacation. It’s not.
Last week, I mentioned the three Hollywood conferences that F+W Media is staging in October in Hollywood.
In tandem with those, Michael Cader and Mike Shatzkin will be staging a special edition of their one-day Publishers Launch programs on October 22: Hollywood Launch is themed “Film/TV-to-Book: How Digital Publishing Creates New Revenue and Marketing Opportunities for Hollywood.” Early registration is open.
In preparation, Shatzkin got his Left Coast side into gear this week, in fact, in Everybody in Hollywood Needs an eBook Strategy:
The first step for networks and channels and producers in Hollywood is to learn how to utilize their new revenue and marketing tool: ebooks.
In the piece, Shatzkin outlines the parallels in the digital experience, if you will, of filmmakers and publishers:
Things have changed in Hollywood too. Digital tools make it cheaper and easier to make a movie, just like it is now cheaper and easier to make a book. But, just like book publishers, producers of Hollywood content find the growth in competition mushrooming. The corollary to the fact that making movies can be cheaper is that promoting them is that much harder and, much more than decades ago, every revenue stream counts, even pretty small ones.
This digital thing just doesn’t fall on anybody very gracefully.
And speaking of that, in the nearer term. Shatzkin and Cader have a Publisher’s Launch show ahead at BEA on June 4: Launch BEA has a lineup of speakers that includes: Patricia Arancibia, Molly Barton, Javier Celaya, Hugh McGuire, Michael Tamblyn and more. I’ll be doing some live coverage at that one.
Having barely sat down after announcing those three new Hollywood confabs in October, F+W Media is back on its feet this week to add Discoverability and Marketing 2012 to its confab portfolio — September 24 and 25 in New York. Early registration is open.
Whether marketing books, digital books, or content of any kind, we need the tools to attract consumers through content marketing, email marketing, and social media.
Each time you visit France, all those French classes rush back into your mind, don’t they? You’re Rimbaud Jr. by the time you find your luggage at CDG, thanks to your immersion in the scene, the rhythms, the place.
Speaking of Rachelle Gardner, I’m guesting at her site today on the topic of embracing social-media protocol.
In Get a Grip on Twitter Handles, I never say just how many writers I see failing to identify and promote their own handles (let alone others’) in their work. But it’s enough to make you wonder whether most platforming authors understand how the amplification of “socmed” dynamics works.
I propose that writers get into a Berlitz frame of mind and stop leaving social-media currency sur la table.
Think in the language of Twitter. And come join me in our Twitter-ese conversation about it.
That’s a great way for a platforming author to approach Twitter — as a language. And nothing works like immersional baggage handling.
Think about it. Don’t just scream or slam doors, but really think about what it would take to effect the suggested changes. Talk it out with someone who’s familiar with your book. Think about how the changes would work with your own vision of the story.
You haven’t been rejected, but you’re not being offered representation either.
Lebak is mercifully straightforward.
If the agent only tells you the first part (the problems) that is not a R/R. It’s a rejection with a reason attached. (You’re still free to revise, but the agent isn’t asking to see the result.)
Then she goes on to outline a way of working, painful to contemplate but clearly charting the high road to stronger material, should you decide you want to take onboard a request for revision and resubmission.
Take your time. Seriously, take as long as you need to, and then take longer. And then re-edit before you send it. Most agents would prefer you give the revision the full attention it requires than have you slap-dash some changes together.
I took a train upstate to a literary conference sometime after my first novel came out. At a panel discussion in an underground conference room, an audience member asked a question: “What makes literary fiction literary?”
Emily St. John Mandel, whose new The Lola Quartet has just been published, gets at the confusion that dogs many writers in On “Noir” and Genre Pigeonholing at Beyond the Margins.Talking of her first novel, Last Night in Montreal, she writes:
When the book eventually appeared in print, I saw it categorized variously as literary fiction, general fiction, crime fiction, mystery, suspense, and—this last one bothers me immensely—women’s fiction.
And Mandel has to brace for the genre jig to hoof it through her work again on the new book. Feeling as literary as noir and as noir as literary, the not-so-new normal for her, she writes, may just be an unclassifiable world view very much her own.
…don’t give up just because your work falls outside “expected” lines of genre or style. Be persistent. If your writing is good enough, you just may find that perfect editor to champion it.
For her part, Mandel clearly isn’t discouraged (she keeps publishing, after all). But her essay reflects the sort of dissatisfaction with traditional categorization that many in the self-publishing camp often discuss. Mandel:
What I mean to say is that noir feels like an appropriate response to the world we find ourselves in. I hope that doesn’t make me overly pessimistic.
There is no marketing trick. There is human connection, and you can’t fake it. It takes time and effort and, most importantly: you have to actually LIKE it, otherwise you’ll be miserable.
That’s Amanda Palmer, performing artist and musician (Dresden Dolls, Evelyn Evelyn, and half of Mr. and Mrs. Neil Gaiman) in a first-person piece, despite its headline, for techdirt, How Amanda Palmer Built An Army Of Supporters: Connecting Each And Every Day, Person By Person.
We’re entering the era of the social artist. It’s getting increasingly harder to hide in a garret and lower your songs down in a bucket to the crowd waiting below, wrapped in a cloak of sexy mystery above. That was the 90s.
The success that prompts the piece is a Kickstarter campaign for $100,000 to do a studio album without a label. She had the money not in the 32 days planned, but in six hours. Here she is, and the all-caps moments are all-her:
I share my process. I ask for help SHAMELESSLY. I sleep at my fans houses. I eat with them. I read the books they write. I see their plays and dance performances, online and in real life. I back their own crowdfunding projects. I get rides home with them. I’m the kind of person they WANT to help, because they know me well enough, after years of connecting, to know WHO I ACTUALLY AM.
I think what’s interesting about this is how well it seems to work in the context of Palmer’s career and mode of working. Her art is based in alternative rock, cabaret, punk. (In Sean Francis’ note which follows her piece, you see “Team AFP,” for “Amanda Fucking Palmer.”)
Musicians are no longer traveling by limo with one-way glass protecting them from view. Now we’re all going on foot, door to door, in the open sunshine… with the internet as our magical, time-space defeating sidewalk.
This is the sort of project backing exercise we’d all love to see work for authors. Can authors approach their connections with readers as Palmer does hers?
“My tech fantasy is that within the next couple years, smartphones and tablets will have external-facing screens” so readers can show others what they are reading. It’s a huge social signal. Right now we can’t do that. We’re all in our own little content silos.”
There were several such memorable observations from Josh Quittner of Flipboard and Jesse Angelo of The Daily, in Laura Hazard Owen’s Flipboard’s Quittner: Magazines a “horrible,” “ugly” business at paidContent.
“The newsstand business is a horrible business. Magazines pay something like 50 percent of their costs of distribution to newsstands, and then if they sell 20 to 30 percent of their magazines, that’s considered a home run. Then they have to pay to kill — to destroy — the 30 to 40 percent of the magazines they don’t sell.”
As for paid content, Owen writes, “many Flipboard publishers are asking for paywall support, Quittner said.” She quotes him:
“People will pay for ‘essential’ — the WSJ, the NYT, and the Daily.” Flipboard hasn’t introduced a paywall option yet, but “we have to create systems that allow for the most engaged users to pay for that which they think is essential.”
Over time, I stated to see, we’re really on the verge of having these pretty complete—I call it the data map—these digital doppelgangers of our everyday lives online.
Author and host of Canadian Broadcasting’s Spark, Nora Young says her position on the online-inclusive life has shifted. Since writing her book, The Virtual Self: How Our Digital Lives Are Altering the World Around Us, Young says she now sees the “self-tracking” so many of us are doing as less Narcissistic than self-objectifying. Narcissus was stuck on his own beauty. If there’s anything to what Young is saying, we may be stuck on ourselves, period.
(I’m linking Young’s book title to Canadian Amazon, by the way, because the book isn’t listing as available at US Amazon, and there is no Kindle version, apparently. Which seems ironic for a book about virtual life, doesn’t it?)
When you talk to people, everybody seems to think, “Oh, I’m fine, I’m careful with my privacy.” But I don’t know. I think a lot of people are spewing out a lot of data and not really thinking about some of the implications of it or what it might be used for in the future.”
In this Six Pixels of Separation podcast interview with Mitch Joel — The Virtual Self, with Nora Young — Young defines “self-tracking” as an effort to Storify your life. And she identifies the introduction of Facebook Timeline as “a watershed moment” when people suddenly could see how many “inanities about themselves” they’d been publishing. “And you really are publishing them.”
I think the slightly scary thing about it is that this has been happening in this piecemeal sort of way. There are all these pieces of the jigsaw that have gradually been coming together, like the rise of all these services, the rise of cheap data storage, the app revolution, and the fact that so many people have smartphones now…It’s kind of taken people by surprise.
To work as an on-air personality, Young has a strangely pronounced way of making everything she says a question. She sounds more like a Pasadena mall-shopper than a CBC host, frankly. But listen past the vocal inflections to what she’s saying.
My goal overall in writing the book – I’m a journalist, I don’t really have answers, I have questions – but I want people to start thinking about this stuff and talking about it.
Instead, Young and Joel are onto something at once more interesting and, potentially, more serious: “self-tracking” means turning your day-to-day existence into a relentless scrapbook of Instagram shots, SMS messages, tweets, status updates, phone calls…memoir-in-real-time.
The social media, in particular, give us tools to view our own daily routines as reality shows. Life as the performance of self.
What can we use this information for? Can we use it in a way that’s good for personal insight and social insight? And can we do it while we protect our privacy?
Main image: iStockphoto / lucop: Shot in Montevideo on April 19.
Named a Best Book of 2011: Englewood Review of Books and Hearts & Minds Books
“I read it in three sittings. Then I read it again. It’s a beautiful book, easily my favorite book on writing since Bird by Bird.”
—author Kimberlee Conway Ireton